Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Piping Plover Pair!

This is my third summer volunteering for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a monitor at Silver Sands State Park, where I visit once a week to look for Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds. Piping Plovers are in trouble (and listed as federally threatened) because they nest on sandy beaches, which is of course where people also really want to be in the summer. Incubating parents get disturbed and leave their nests, eggs and chicks get stepped on; it's just not a great situation. So a bunch of people in Connecticut (and other states, too) are actively looking for Piping Plover nests and taking steps to help these birds be successful. (Like putting up fencing around nests to keep other animals and people away, and educating beach-goers about the plovers.)

I always see interesting things whenever I visit Silver Sands State Park, and I'm glad for the excuse to get out to the beach regularly. Aside from a lone Piping Plover two years ago, however, I haven't seen any of these special birds at this park, and the last time any Piping Plovers actually tried to nest here was in 2011 (the summer before I started volunteering). So I was pretty excited when I arrived at this beach yesterday morning to find a pair of Piping Plovers wandering around on the sand. A pair! Yay! The male was striking (and adorable) with his darker markings:

The female was quite pale by comparison (she really does blend in with the beach, doesn't she):

There wasn't any nest (yet), but I watched the male work for a bit on a depression in the sand, pushing his chest into the ground and digging a bit with his feet. A shallow depression and some shell pieces is what passes for a nest for these birds, so it certainly seems like they're considering settling down here. For now, I enjoyed watching them just wander around. A tiny bird on a big beach:

I caught up with the pair a little later as they looked for food at the shoreline. This female really is quite pale and pretty!

And she's definitely picked a handsome mate:

Yay, Piping Plovers:

I heard later in the day that someone saw this pair mating, so maybe they really will stick around! I'm hoping that everything works out well for these guys. Unfortunately, the spot where I saw them working on a potential nest is right in the middle of what will become the busiest part of this beach in a few weeks (and this beach gets really busy). I can't imagine how a nest would work out with a hundred people milling around.... Well, we'll see what happens! Now that we know this pair is here, people will be checking on them and watching for eggs. I'm very curious to see if they'll still be here when I visit again next week!

The Piping Plovers were the main attraction, but there were plenty of other things to see yesterday morning as well. I enjoyed the opportunity to compare the Piping Plovers to another species of plover that's much more common at this beach (and on lawns, etc.), the Killdeer. These birds are so much bigger and lankier than the Piping Plovers, but there are definitely some family resemblances, especially in the basic costume:

A White-tailed Deer was lounging right in the middle of the marsh. Are those the tiny nubs of antlers on your head, deer?

At the water's edge, two Snowy Egrets were chasing each other and making their dinosaur calls while a third egret looked on:

It's definitely breeding season, and these birds are looking magnificent:

While the Snowy Egrets tussled, a larger Great Egret sailed by. Both of these species nest in this park (on Charles Island, just offshore from the main park) and it's always great to see them at their breeding best. I love the Great Egret's green breeding-season mask, and the way that long neck seems to fuse back onto itself in flight:

In the fields behind the marshes, male American Goldfinches were singing and showing off their bright summer outfits:

And I was happy to see that the Northern Flickers are going ahead with their nesting project that I first noticed two weeks ago. This time, it was the female flicker who was working in the cavity and came out to watch me and my camera as I passed (at a respectful distance):

These are such gorgeous birds (I can't get over those spots!) and they're so much bolder than I would have guessed. This lady stayed at her perch while another person walked by just feet away from her tree (unaware of the woodpecker right overhead). As long as the passing people and dogs don't actually bother the flickers, I guess these birds are comfortable living here. I'll look forward to seeing their fancy faces sticking out of this hole whenever I visit, and I wish them luck!

There are so many creatures starting families in this little park. Here's hoping these endeavors work out! (Come on, plovers!)


  1. Northern flickers! We have a couple of them in our backyard that are obsessed with pecking the lawn. They're the first bird that I've managed to identify on the internet just from their description and habits, and they look just like the picture you posted.

    1. Awesome! We've had Northern Flickers visit our yard a few times, but I'd love to see them more often. They are quite distinctive in looks and behavior! (And I love that we have a woodpecker that drills into both trees and lawns.)

  2. Hi Elizabeth! We'd love to share your blog post on our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region blog, Would you let us know if that would be OK? Also, we'd love to have you guest-write a post for our blog in the future! You can email if you're interested.